I am in Guatemala and at the Tahoe Resources Escobal Silver Mine. I have previously noted that I and my daughter are the engineers who designed and now give advice on the operation of the filter-pressed tailings stack. Much credit must also go to Flor de Maria Gonzalez and Sergio Aycinena of Geosimsa who are the engineers of record in Guatemala. We have worked closely with them these past four years and both have proven sound partners. Particularly Flor who as a young woman has made her mark by her excellence in a male-dominated Guatemalan mining environment.
But that is not the story I wish to tell now—maybe later—maybe at Tailings and Mine Waste in Vancouver next year if I can persuade them to come and present papers on the incredible work they have done.
Now I want to tell the story of our lunch today. A group of advisors to investors visited the site today. They did the underground trip; then we took them to the tailings facility which is looking good—see pictures above and below. Then we went to lunch.
First there was a presentation of the Escobal approach to sustainable mining. I have written much about this concept which I have always regarded with suspicion. I still do. But I have to tell that the presentation was excellent and proved that a mine can gain a social license to mine and can make a better life for people by sustainable mining or whatever it is called.
There is one fact—of many—in the excellent presentation (that I presume you can get from a representative from Tahoe–send me the request and I will forward it to them) that sticks with me. Guatemala has a very high rate of child malnutrition, and the rate in the surrounding communities is even higher than the national average. And Tahoe is working with many to reduce this rate and feed the children.
From personal observation over the four or five years that I have being coming down here I can attest that everybody looks a lot healthier now than when I first came. The kids along the village streets positively glow and prance whereas the first I saw them they were pallid and lethargic. Even the kids in the security center of the mine look amazingly healthy—even though they are so small & slim and so very young looking.
Impressive as this fact is, even more impressive to me were the questions to and answers by two senior Tahoe people. I make bold to name Ron Clayton and Don Gray. I have been this year to at least thirteen mines and examined over twenty tailings facilities. I say without hesitation that the success of Escobal must have something to do with the character and integrity of these two men. For so many of the mines I have been to have faced far lesser issues, yet have, to my mind, been absent the skill and drive of these two men and of course the others of ability they have gathered around them.
I have met with them, observed them, and consulted to them for over four years now. Generally I was the originator and bearer of bad news—mostly the fact that we needed more money spent on the tailings facility than initially estimated. They delved deep into my statements; made me justify my needs; questioned the technical and engineering issues I raised; and made me work and think and argue hard. But always, without fail, they have done and forced me to do the right thing for the tailings, the environment and the community. I did not always get what I wanted, but I always got what was needed to make the tailings a success. And I know that in the days and months and years ahead I will get what I want—even though I am in competition with the Guatemalan government for finite resources.
I know the stock price is falling. Mostly I suspect because of the raising to ten percent by the Guatemalan government of the royalty tax. Ron talked of this in measured but insightful remarks. The details I leave to others, but the bare bones is that there is silver in those hills, building community support and nurturing a mine work force from the community takes time and money, and Tahoe is doing it and intends to continue doing it.
I do not invest in mines or companies for which I work. Careful of conflict of interest of course. I admit though there were times, and today’s lunch was one, when I contemplated stopping working for Tahoe and investing in them instead. Problem is that it is so interesting and rewarding working for them that I have decided to park the investments elsewhere.
I could go on, but have to be on site to work tomorrow. So enough. Let me just emphasize: I have long been engaged as a consultant by Tahoe; I have done a lot with regard to tailings management for them; I know and respect their people; I wish I could invest in them; and I have not asked their permission to post this nor have they read it or commented on it. For the worst they can do is fire me if they do not like what is write—-then I can go invest in them without conflict of interests concerns.